Weed-eating fish for your farm pond

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Cary Sims
Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.

If you are a landowner of any size, you most likely have a pond. And if you have a pond of any kind, you most likely have aquatic weeds that you would like to get rid of.

Even though there are a wide variety of safe, effective, and environmentally responsible herbicides that one can use, most folks are tickled to hear that there are two kinds of fish available that love to eat weeds.

These two fish are the Triploid grass carp and tilapia. 

Triploid grass carp is a sterile (non-reproducing) form of grass carp. This fish is primarily a plant-eater and is a relatively effective biological tool to control some, but not all, species of nuisance aquatic vegetation. Grass carp love to eat weeds such as eloda, hydrilla, naiads, parrotfeather, and pondweeds. Bushy pondweed, American pondweed, and hydrilla are preferred vegetation. Grass carp are not effective for bulrush, filamentous algae (pond scum or moss), water primrose, coontail, Eurasian milfoil, or cattails.

Grass carp are a state-restricted fish that you must apply for (with a fee) through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.  The application is available online or you can simply call or visit your local Texas Parks and Wildlife office and request the form. You will need to tell them about your location and information about your pond(s), pay a fee, and then you should get permitted to purchase a specified number of grass carp. 

Once you have this permit in hand, I would suggest that you call your favorite feed store and find out when the “fish truck” is coming. Be sure to tell your feed store owner or manager that you do have a grass carp permit in hand and wish to purchase some the next time the truck comes through town. 

The second type of fish that you could buy for aquatic weed control is tilapia. Tilapia can be found on the menu at red lobster, in the fish section at your local grocery store, and you can buy them live, by the pound, to stock in your farm pond to eat some of the smaller nuisance weeds. Specifically, tilapia are great at controlling filamentous algae (often called pond scum), duckweed, and watermeal. Outside of those three weeds, they are not effective on other aquatic vegetation. Mozambique tilapia aren’t restricted in any manner, but one should remember that they are a tropical fish that are not expected to live through the winter. 

Being a tropical, warm-water species, tilapia cannot survive at water temperatures below 55 F. Therefore, tilapia usually cannot be stocked before mid-April or May and are expected to die the following November or December. Recommended stocking rates are 15 to 20 pounds of mixed-sex adult Mozambique tilapia (Oreochromis mossambicus) per surface acre. Tilapia are often not effective for vegetation control if the pond has a robust bass population due to intense predation. In Texas, stocking of Mozambique tilapia does not require a permit from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. 

Before going further, please realize that I am only speaking of the Mozambique tilapia. In Texas, stocking of Mozambique tilapia does not require a permit from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Blue or Nile tilapia (or any other variety of tilapia) require an exotic species permit and are not to be used for recreational pond stocking. 

One other advantage to using tilapia is that if you are intent on raising big bass, you should consider stocking this tropical fish as a forage specie.  As the water cools in late fall, and before the tilapia perish, they get slow and sluggish, allowing bass to fatten up for the winter.  

So, as you head out to a local farm pond, and are tired of pulling the weeds off the hook each time you cast, remember that there are two types of fish that might just eat those weeds while benefitting your ponds aesthetics as well as feeding the bass population. 

If you wish to learn more about farm pond management, the Angelina County office of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service will host a farm pond management seminar on Tuesday, May 18 at 6:30 pm.  There is no fee for the seminar. 

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